European Court Confirms Ustasha Salute Ruling

By 30 January 2019

The European Court of Human Rights has refused to discuss the lawsuit filed against Croatia by former football player Josip Šimunić. The former footballer sued Croatia at the court in Strasbourg because of the final verdict issued by the High Misdemeanour Court in December 2016, with a 25,000 kuna fine against Šimunić for his chanting of the Ustasha salute "For Homeland - Ready" (Za dom - Spremni) at a football stadium after the end of the football match between Croatia and Iceland, reports Jutarnji List on January 30, 2019.

As a well-known footballer and an idol to his many fans, Šimunić had to be aware of the possible negative impact of the chant in the eyes of the public and should have refrained from it, the court in Strasbourg said in its verdict, expressing satisfaction with the 25,000 kuna fine that Croatia’s High Misdemeanour Court ordered.

After the football match held in November 2013, Šimunić raised his hand and said over the microphone “For Homeland”, (Za dom) three times, with the audience answering three times "Ready" (Spremni).

The final verdict of the High Misdemeanour Court, issued by Judge Branka Žigant Živković, which Šimunić failed to overturn at the European Court of Human Rights, states that the chant symbolises the official greeting used during the times of the totalitarian regime of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH, considered to be a Nazi-puppet state in Croatia during the Second World War) and as such represents a demonstration of racist ideology, contempt towards other people because of their religious and ethnic affiliation, and the trivialisation of the victims of numerous crimes against humanity which took place during those years.

In a lawsuit sent to the court in Strasbourg, Šimunić claimed that the verdict had violated his right to a fair trial, namely Article 7 of the Human Rights Convention, which states that it is not possible to be sanctioned for something which is not expressly prohibited by law.

In his lawsuit, Šimunić argued that the "For Homeland Ready" slogan was not explicitly prohibited by any Croatian law, that his right to freedom of expression had been violated, and that Croatia had discriminated against him because many others in Croatia were not punished for using the same slogan.

Rejecting Šimunić’s lawsuit, the Human Rights Court stated that it was not within the jurisdiction of that court to analyse the way in which local courts enforce laws and domestic jurisprudence. Šimunić did not appeal to the Croatian judiciary based on the fact that the usage of the Ustasha salute was not criminalised under Croatian law. That means that he cannot sue on those grounds in Strasbourg.

The Municipal Misdemeanour Court in Zagreb initially imposed a fine of 5,000 kuna, but the High Misdemeanour Court later increased the penalty to 25,000 kuna. Šimunić was convicted under the Law on Fighting Disorder at Sports Venues.

Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Slavica Lukić).

More news on the historical issues stemming from the Second World War can be found in the Politics section.